Device Convergence Not A Priority? Says Who?
By Carlo Longino, Thu Dec 18 20:30:00 GMT 2003

A new Jupiter study says that a little more than half of the US consumers they surveyed are happy to carry multiple portable devices every day, and that they generally aren't interested in converged devices. We, of course, have some questions...

The report makes the pretty definitive statement that "no device that attempts to integrate three or more primary functions will be dominant in the marketplace. Primary intended use, and the value proposition of secondary uses in each price category, will drive handheld adoption." They add that the most important primary functionality of portable devices is voice communications -- then a calculator. Huh?

Jupiter's been beating the anti-convergence drum for some time, saying earlier this year that consumers weren't interested in phones with cameras, PDA functions, or music players. At least they're consistent, I guess, if nothing else. It's no surprise that voice communication is the most desired feature, after all, mobile phones are the most popular portable devices. And it isn't any less surprising that people are willing to carry separate devices like iPods or MP3 players or dedicated PDAs, as no single device yet offers the high level of features and functionality that the separate devices do.

The key word there is "yet" -- the problem with this Jupiter report is that it's almost written as if the device market is in a time warp. While many current attempts at convergence fall miserably short, there's no reason to think that they're not getting better. The Treo 600 is the best example so far, perhaps because as this review in Slate points out, it's a phone with the PDA functionality very carefully added in. The form factor is far closer to a standard phone than previous Treos, and the interface has been reworked to allow for one-handed operation.

The writer of that Slate piece, Paul Boutin, acknowledges that the Treo 600 isn't perfect, saying it could be smaller and have better battery life. But he also recognizes that this is an early-generation model, and things should only get better from here. The same is true for other converged devices as well. But as devices, operating systems, and particularly user interfaces improve, people will start abandoning separate devices. PDA sales have been dropping for some time now, due to the emergence of phones with PIM functions and e-mail devices like the BlackBerry. As phones' PDA functionalities increased, the need for a separate PDA decreased. The same will happen with cameras, and eventually MP3 players, just one possibility offered by the tiny hard drive Toshiba is developing.